Making the team

When Alyssa Gilkey isn’t being a full-time band instructor at Phillips Middle School, she is a student of judo, the Japanese modern martial art. Gilkey hopes through training and victory to become a member of the U.S. Olympic Judo Team.

According to Gilkey, the sport is similar to Greco-Roman wrestling.

“You are against one other opponent. You pick each other up, in a kind of throwing style,” she said. “And then you go into mat work, where you do grappling.”

Gilkey has trained in judo for four years.

“I work out five to six days a week in Judo with partners, cooperatively, doing drills, working on my throws, my grappling,” she said. “I also attend a Brazilian jujitsu club in Ames, with my coach, Vladimir Williams. I also do weight training outside of that three days a week. Off days, I will go running and do some cardio.”

Managing time between work and practice has not been as difficult as it has been a challenge for Gilkey.

“I just have to be very organized,” she said. “Teaching is my job and I love what I do here. I just have to really utilize my planning periods in school. There will be days where work comes home with me, but I will do that outside of practice. Once I leave the doors, I’m in Judo mode for the rest of day.”

Trying judo for the first time was a “random decision,” Gilkey said.

“I was in college and I wanted something new to do that I’d never tried before,” she said. “I used to be a competitive swimmer actually. That was a sport I knew. This was something a friend mentioned to me that was very aggressive and hands-on. I was weirded out by the sport, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I went to a practice and tried it, and really fell in love with it.”

The path to the Olympics begins at the local level, working up through the ranks in tournaments to the regional level.

“Once you start doing well in the regional tournaments you start going to national tournaments,” Gilkey said. “(Those) are divided into a points system. You earn national roster points when you medal at national tournaments.”

National tournaments are ranked in a letter system. E is the lowest level, with athletes earning only one point for getting a gold medal.

“A-level tournaments include international tournaments, like the grand prix, which is where I’m going next month,” Gilkey said. “To compete in anything higher than a C-level tournament you usually have to get invited because you’re representing your country and not just your local club. They usually take the top four for each weight division.”

She added, “It is a very long process.”

Gilkey said joining the ranks of the best in her country in the sport she loves would be “unbelievable.”

“It’s a very big honor to represent your country in something that big,” she said. “It would be a wonderful thing.”